horizons description 07.11.07 no price - Montana Historical Society
2 807 MAIN COMMERCIAL HOTEL FORSYTH MAIN STREET HISTORIC DISTRICT Captain William Clark trekked through this area on his journey up the Yellowstone River in 1806. By the time General George Armstrong Custer passed by en route to the Little Bighorn in 1876, homesteads dotted the area. As the Northern Pacific Railroad pushed west in 1882, officials platted the town of Forsyth to serve its crews. They planned the town with a one-sided Main Street facing the railroad right-of-way. Growth at first was tentative with businesses clustered around the principal intersection at Main and Ninth Streets. Early urban development resulted from the efforts of Hiram Marcyes and Thomas Alexander, rival businessmen who controlled much of Forsyth’s early economy. As the railroad attracted a more diverse population that included doctors, lawyers, merchants, and service providers, Forsyth became a regional trade and social center. In 1901 Rosebud County was established with Forsyth as the county seat. Main Street expanded rapidly during the homestead boom of the 1910s. Although drought and depression in 1918 halted most development, Forsyth’s importance as a local trade center was undiminished. Today twenty-four buildings span the period 1888- 1931, offering small-town ambiance. The Marcyes Building and the Alexander Hotel, built by the town’s two rivals, represent the early period. Several fine architect-designed blocks from the twentieth century also enrich the streetscape. The Renaissance Revival style Commercial Hotel (1903–6), the Beaux Arts style Wacholz Building (1917), and the Spanish Eclectic Roxy Theatre (1930) illustrate the vitality of this small but thriving community. Decorative brickwork marks this impressive hotel, designed by Montana architects Link and Haire. A vivid diamond pattern of light and dark brick provides a decorative band below the cornice, while raised brickwork divides the building vertically. A smooth belt line separates the street façade from the upper levels. In this, it mirrors traditional Renaissance Revival design, which organized large buildings into horizontal layers, with each floor becoming increasingly more refined. Rusticated stone was often used to make the first floor seem rougher than the upper levels, an effect simulated here through brickwork. Owned by pioneer entrepreneur Hiram Marcyes, the hotel was built in stages from 1903 to 1906. Marcyes, who owned a brickyard south of town, had earlier built Forsyth’s first brick business block as well as several other properties. A 1905 newspaper article gave Marcyes “credit for constructing not only the most [buildings], but the largest building in the city”—the new Commercial Hotel. The hotel, it said, was “the result of much personal effort,” Marcyes “having been carpenter, mason, and painter . . . at different times.” 869 MAIN DOWLIN & SWEETSER BLOCK The arrival of the Milwaukee railroad in 1907 and the homesteaders who followed created new business opportunities for Forsyth, which grew in population from 726 people in 1904 to 1,398 in 1910. Recognizing the town’s potential, Mayor J. W. Sweetser purchased this tract of land from early Forsyth pioneer Hiram Marcyes in 1907. With financial backing from W. E. Dowlin, he erected this two-story brick business block on Forsyth’s unpaved Main Street. At the time, its relatively large scale was atypical, but it quickly became a model for others to follow. The second floor offered rental rooms, while a variety of businesses, including Walter Dean’s jewelry and drug store and J. C. Penney, occupied the street-level storefronts. The building’s detailed brick cornice may have been inspired by ones in Anoka, Minnesota. The Forsyth Times reported that Dowlin planned to select the building’s facade on a trip there to visit family in September 1907. The owners’ pride in the structure was obvious: centered beneath the elaborate brick cornice is a concrete panel with the words “Dowlin 1907 Sweetser.” 925 MAIN MERCHANT’S BANK BLOCK A 1912 fire at the next door American Hotel likely provided the impetus to stucco the facade of this brick building. Thomas Alexander, a pioneer business man and founder of the Merchant’s Bank, built the first story of the two-story business block around 1893. Alexander’s bank occupied the east half of the main floor; the Post Office occupied the west half. The second story was completed in late 1894 and features a geometric, elaborately corbelled brick cornice. According to local legend, business competitor Hiram Marcyes blackballed Alexander from the Masons. However, Alexander was active in other fraternal organizations, and he incorporated a hall on the second floor “for the use of secret societies”. Both bank and Post Office had moved by 1900, and the Main Street storefronts became home to other businesses. In 1903, a short-lived bowling alley was tacked onto the rear of the building. Around 1910, the American Hotel, also owned by Alexander, took over the second floor. A passage-way cut between the secondstory walls connected the guest rooms in this building to the main hotel. 2 971 MAIN MERCHANT’S BANK Pioneer businessman Thomas Alexander founded Forsyth’s first bank in 1892. In 1898, he built this ashlar stone bank building with material quarried within a mile of Forsyth. Three small panels on the cornice commemorate a year of construction and the building's original function. Although stone was widely used for foundations, Merchant’s Bank is one of the few Forsyth buildings built completely of stone. Large, plate-glass commercial windows and an inset entryway originally marked the street level façade. Inside, “commodious vaults of stone and steel” helped safeguard deposits from theft or fire. Capitalized at $12,000 in 1900, Merchant’s Bank was a small bank even for its day. Nevertheless, it remained Forsyth's only bank until 1901. By 1903 the bank had moved, and two storefronts, occupied by a barbershop and a carpentry/tinshop, shared this space. Not long after, J. Z. Northway opened a butcher shop here, where he sold meat and fresh sausage, which were manufactured in the circa 1910 rear brick addition. A community institution, the Forsyth Meat Market operated on Main Street into the 1930s. 167 N. 9TH CHOISSER BLOCK This building was erected as a two story commercial block in 1908 by Joseph Choisser. The building’s original cost was $30,000. Choisser was involved in several Forsyth commercial ventures, although much of his energy was devoted to a wholesale liquor business. This building was erected to serve as his liquor warehouse and to provide retail space. This substantial building is significant as one of only two three- story brick commercial blocks in Forsyth. The building also housed the Forsyth Post Office for nearly sixty years. Although the building does not display a high level of ornamentation, the keystone finestration areas, the detailed belt course, and the historic pediment lend attractive vernacular detail to the building, at a level typical locally. 175-183 N 9TH RICHARDSON MERCANTILE IMPLEMENT DIVISION “Forsyth No Longer a String Town—Side Streets Are Being Utilized” proclaimed a 1910 Forsyth Times article lauding the development of Ninth Avenue. Side streets lined with businesses marked a railroad town’s coming-of-age, as did construction of brick buildings featuring whatever architectural flourishes their owners could afford. Rusticated quoins and a small brick cornice ornament the façade of this relatively simple one-story building constructed between 1907 and 1910. In 1910, a large wooden warehouse stood in back; the Richardson Mercantile used both the warehouse and this brick storefront for its farm implement division. In 1915 the law firm of Loud, Collins, Brown, Campbell and Wood purchased the building. The firm, which also operated in Billings and Miles City, completely remodeled the structure to make it “as modern as possible.” Large plate glass windows provided ample light for the stenographic department, while skylights provided light and ventilation for the private offices of the firm’s principals. Later remodels changed the building further, but its function remained constant: law firms continued to occupy this space until 1988. 164-170 N. 9TH KENNEDY-FLETCHER BLOCK A pressed metal cornice, door surrounds made of cast iron, and an exposed steel Ibeam distinguish the façade of the 1907 Kennedy-Fletcher block. Geo. L. Mesker and Co. of Bedford, Indiana, the largest architectural ironworks in the country, manufactured the decorative metal elements, which feature ornamented floral and leaf designs, simple swags, fleur-de-lis, and other classical motifs. Mass-produced, metal detailing was a less expensive form of decoration than stone. By contrast, the steel I-beam separating the first and second floors has a primarily structural purpose. The I-beam transfers weight away from the large display windows used to beckon customers. Its defining decorative rosettes are actually a glorified plate-andbolt assembly that holds structurally important tie rods. The largest commercial building in Forsyth at the time of its construction, the department store was also the first brick commercial block erected off Main Street. E. A. Richardson bought the business in 1908. In 1916, he sold an expanded operation to his department managers, who transformed the building into three separate stores that sold groceries, dry goods, and hardware and furniture.
933 MAIN DROESE PHARMACY In 1882 pioneer Thomas Alexander traded a parcel of land to the Northern Pacific in exchange for other property nearby. Alexander’s farm became the town of Forsyth and Alexander became an important local merchant and real estate developer. Among his other ventures, he constructed four brick buildings on Main Street’s 900 block. In 1897 he rented this one to a hardware and saddlery shop; construction of the second floor, which features a cornice decorated with a row of short pilasters, was still underway. In 1902 Alexander sold the western commercial style building to Peter Droese, who operated a drugstore here until 1933. Droese helped found Forsyth’s telephone service in 1900 and, despite being a man, worked as its first “Hello Girl.” In the teens, Droese stuccoed the building’s exterior, which perhaps had suffered damage when the nearby American Hotel burned in 1912. In 1933, Ike Blakesley and Jack Mason converted the drugstore into “Club Cigar,” later known as Blakesley’s. Ike’s son Glen continued to operate the popular bar and lunch room into the 1980s. 981 MAIN ROXY THEATRE “May You Prosper Well in Your New Theatre with Your Steadfast Faith in Forsyth,” read one of the many ads that filled the August 28, 1930, Forsyth Times. Car and clothing merchants joined building contractors and suppliers in congratulating Anthony Wolke and Frank Faust on the construction of their new theatre. Movies had played in Forsyth since the turn of the century, first in the Commercial Hotel, then in a converted Main Street storefront. The Roxy, however, was the first building in Forsyth constructed specifically as a theatre; it was also one of the few buildings constructed in Forsyth during the Great Depression. Equipped with RCA sound-producing equipment, the new theatre boasted red velour curtains, spring cushion seats, Spanish lanterns in the foyer, and six small Spanish balconies in the auditorium itself. The Spanish décor carried to the exterior, where stucco walls and exotic-looking Spanish roof tiles tempted passersby to escape the sometimes grim reality of the Depression. Entrance into the realm of romance and entertainment cost only fifty cents (sixty cents for balcony seats). 1001 MAIN VANANDA STATE BANK BUILDING Symmetrical facades, conservative designs, and the use of durable material, particularly stone and brick, typified small-town Montana bank buildings like this one, originally constructed in Vananda, seventeen miles northwest of Forsyth. In the days before Federal Deposit Insurance, such designs conveyed a sense of permanence and stability. These solid buildings promised a prosperous future for the young communities they served. Vananda was born in 1915 of the homesteading boom and the Milwaukee railroad. In 1917, the bank hired Forsyth builder Louie Wahl to construct the first “semi-fireproof” building in town for $6,000. The stately little bank was open only five years before it failed in 1923, a victim of ongoing drought and depressed commodity prices. The building then served as a post office and home to the postmaster’s family of twelve until 1959. By that time, Vananda was practically a ghost town. In 2002, the building was carefully separated and lifted from its foundation. Then, in 2003, this 100-ton structure was moved across sixteen bridges to its present location in downtown Forsyth. 1187 MAIN BLUE FRONT ROOMING HOUSE The Northern Pacific Railroad was the lifeblood of many small Montana towns like Forsyth which was founded in 1882 to serve as an operations base for rail crews. Since unmarried men filled most railroad positions, towns like Forsyth had need of inexpensive basic housing facilities. Originally the railroad provided housing for its Forsyth workers but when the section house burned in 1902, the railroad did not replace it. Gustaf “Gus” Swanland built this rooming house in 1912 to fill a need for housing in Forsyth. He lived there himself along with his single tenants, many whom were Northern Pacific Railroad employees. Although advertised as the Swanland Hotel, the building was commonly known as the “Blue Front” because of its bright blue paint. A 1905 city ordinance required fire-resistant brick construction, and like its neighbors, the vernacular Italianate style facade was enhanced with a layer of light-colored brick veneer. A bracketed wooden cornice and pediment soften the rather austere, utilitarian image. Both stories reflect typical boarding house living arrangements with small wall-papered rooms opening onto a central hallway. The spartan sleeping rooms had little space, not even closets, but the Blue Front’s common kitchen, parlor, and dining room offered a more homelike atmosphere. The Blue Front’s interior, which survives almost intact, provides a fascinating glimpse into the turn of the century accommodations. 3 3 1043 MAIN MASONIC TEMPLE Terra-cotta medallions sporting the Masonic emblem of square and compass and the words “Masonic Temple” centered beneath the cornice proudly announce this building’s primary purpose. Chartered in 1898, the Forsyth Masonic Lodge met in borrowed quarters until 1905, when enthusiastic Mason Hiram Marcyes included a lodge room in his new Commercial Hotel. Six years later, the Masons hired Miles City architect Brynjulf Rivenes to design this Beaux Arts style temple, constructed of local brick from Marcyes’ brickyard and finished with a facade of high-fire Hebron brick trimmed with Bedford limestone. Rent from the first-floor storefronts subsidized the building’s $21,000 price tag. The second floor boasted the lodge room as well as a cloakroom and clubroom designed for members of the short-lived Forsyth Club. During the 1918 flu epidemic, clubrooms were converted into a temporary hospital. In 1921 the public library, founded by the Forsyth Woman’s Club, occupied the space. While the library moved to the old courthouse in 1927 and into its current building in 1971, Masons continue to meet in this lodge, built by their predecessors in 1911. 1025 MAIN MCCUISTION BUILDING A rear door big enough to drive through hints at this building’s original purpose. Rancher, banker, and businessman Joshua P. McCuistion initially planned to construct a one-story automobile dealership and repair shop here, but the demand for office space led him to add a second story. McCuistion purchased this lot in April 1913, and almost immediately Miles City contractor Charles Weston began construction of the two-story garage and office building. Arthur Sickler sold Fords, Hudsons, and Franklins in this location and ran the Main Street Garage, which advertised itself as a “Tourist’s Headquarters,” offering “Everything for the Auto Traveler.” Automobile tourism was new and entailed some risk. In 1916, a young man caused a fire when he stopped at the garage for gas. After the attendant began filling his tank, the “tenderfoot” lit a match over the gas tank to check the progress. Luckily, the fire only damaged the car itself. Forsyth gained its first stand-alone filling station in 1923, and Sickler sold his business to McCuistion in 1924. However, automobile dealerships continued to sell cars here until 1950. 701 WILLOW FORSYTH WATER PUMPING STATION Recognizing that successful communities require infrastructure, Forsyth’s civic leaders proposed construction of a waterworks and sewerage system in 1906. As the town council asserted when it posted the bond issue, “We desire to improve the town…. If the people do not want the city to advance, they may signify their desire by their votes.” Approving $45,000 for a waterworks and $5,000 for sewerage, a majority of voters signaled their support for municipal progress. Construction of the waterworks fell to the Des Moines Bridge Building Co. The project included building a brick pumping station, settling ponds, and a concrete reservoir on the bluffs above town and installing a network of pipes through Forsyth’s developed streets. Forsyth’s frugal city council did not believe in architectural frills; the stark, industrial design of the pumping station reflects its utilitarian purpose. By February 1908 the waterworks was complete; city residents had only “to tap the mains” to “pipe the purest and clearest of water” into their homes and businesses, according to the Forsyth Times. The newspaper’s description of the water’s purity was somewhat exaggerated, as Forsyth’s 1917 typhoid scare and boil order attests. Nevertheless, the new water system did represent a considerable advance for the community, especially in the area of fire suppression. The amount of water needed to fight a fire in the business district determined the design specifications for Forsyth’s waterworks, and the community quickly took advantage of its new capacity, establishing a volunteer fire department within weeks of the waterworks’ completion. NORTH 3RD FORSYTH BRIDGE Although heavy rain disrupted the celebrations, it couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm Forsyth residents felt for their new bridge, dedicated on July 4, 1905. Prior to the bridge’s construction, Rosebud County residents had to ford the Yellowstone River in low water or depend on an irregular ferry service; the nearest bridge was forty-five miles downstream at Miles City. Rosebud County commissioned William S. Hewett and Co. to construct this pin-connected Pennsylvania throughtruss bridge for $53,200. One of Montana’s most prolific bridge builders, Hewett was responsible for the construction of at least fifteen Montana bridges in and around the Yellowstone Valley between 1897 and 1906. Construction began on December 22, 1904. The crew poured the massive concrete piers before assembling the large steel components, fabricated in the east and shipped to Forsyth by rail. Warming weather and spring flooding sometimes forced the bridge crew to work chest deep in cold water. Nevertheless, construction was completed ahead of schedule. Providing convenient access to the county seat and the Northern Pacific terminal, the bridge saw a marked increase in traffic after construction of the Milwaukee railroad brought homesteaders to north Rosebud County. Originally three spans in length, the southern span crossed the primary river channel; the two northern spans crossed the flood plains. When the bridge was closed in 1958, replaced by a concrete bridge several hundred yards upstream, two of its three spans were salvaged for scrap metal. The southernmost span remains, an example of the tremendous public investment in infrastructure that accompanied the homesteading boom.